May 11, 2014 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
In the first two readings for this Fourth Sunday of Easter St. Peter continues to tell us what we must do to achieve holiness and to live out our Baptismal promises. Today is also designated as Good Shepherd Sunday in Catholic tradition.
In the first reading from Acts, Peter, who definitely has become the primary Apostle, begins to preach with his constant reminder of how Jesus Christ is Savior and one with God. If Peter felt any trepidation about being so forthright in such a public place and before such a large crowd, he gives no indication of it. When the people immediately reply, “What shall we do?” Peter responds in a way which should sound familiar. The first word of his answer is “Repent.” Those who know Scripture well will recall that when John the Baptist first preached, he began with “Repent” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus Himself began His ministry by saying “Repent” (Matthew 4:17).
The Greek word on which the translation “Repent” is based can just as accurately be rendered as “Change.” Peter adds “and let every one of you be baptized.” We often speak of the stewardship way of life. To live in that way requires conversion. In other words, we must “change” how we do things. An interesting sidelight to this first reading is that historians are relatively certain that the number of baptized followers of Christ at the time Peter is giving this sermon is most likely in the hundreds. Yet, it is reported that 3,000 were baptized on that day. The infant Church increased tremendously in membership that day.
The second reading from Peter’s first letter adds an important element for us to what we must do to be holy. He has preached that we need to change and be baptized. Now he adds to that what Jesus reminded us many times: Love one another. Admittedly, he may not say those exact words, but Peter reminds us that Christ suffered for us and offered His life in our behalf. No less is asked of us. Peter prompts us to understand that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and we are His flock. This reference is a cue for us to bear in mind what the Lord is about to say to us in the Gospel from John.
To fully understand the implication of what Jesus says in the Gospel we need an awareness of how shepherds and their flocks functioned in Jesus’ time. There were many shepherds who knew the sheep of their flock and the sheep knew them. At night multiple shepherds and flocks would gather at a large sheepfold. There was a gatekeeper there who would allow them entrance. When it was time to go back to the fields, each shepherd would call his sheep, perhaps by name, and they knew him and followed him.
That is the image which is most accurate about Jesus as our Good Shepherd. He knows each of us by name and has called each of us individually. In this instance in the Gospel Jesus is more than the shepherd; He is also the gatekeeper. We are called by name, but we must respond to that call, and we must recognize that it is through the gatekeeper, through Jesus, that we can gain access to heaven and to holiness.
Jesus is more than the shepherd and the doorkeeper though. He is also the door itself. In some cases there were sheepfolds in the fields used exclusively by a particular shepherd and his flock. After the sheep were inside for the night, the shepherd would literally lay across the door to protect them. That is Jesus to us; He is not only our shepherd and the one who controls entrance, He is the door itself. It is well to remember on this Fourth Sunday of Easter what the Lord first told us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
May 11, 2014 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Although this Fourth Sunday of Easter is officially exactly that, because of our many traditions we celebrate a whole lot more on this day. It is also designated as Good Shepherd Sunday. As if that was not enough, in 1963 Pope Paul VI designated this Sunday as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And because of when Easter fell this year, this year it is our traditional U. S. Mother’s Day as well.
Throughout the various observances and commemorations, the theme of the Good Shepherd holds true, however. The readings for this Fourth Sunday of Easter ring true to the idea that Jesus is our shepherd. Is there a more beautiful psalm than Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Being a good shepherd to others is the epitome of stewardship. Jesus demonstrated His love for us, to the extent that He gave His life so we might live, “By His wounds you are healed.”
This image of a good shepherd who watches over the flock is paralleled by our priests, those who give their lives through vocations so that we might have the Eucharist and our faith. It is equally matched by the image of a mother, a person who lives out stewardship in part by watching over and caring for her children. Even President George Washington understood the splendor of motherhood: “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother.”
May 4, 2014 – Third Sunday of Easter
St. Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo (in present day Algeria) about 400 years after Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Our Scriptural readings last week spoke of the importance of “believing” without “seeing.” This was no different at the time of Augustine. He wrote in his City of God, “I do not care to inquire why they cannot believe an earthly body can be in heaven, while the whole earth is suspended on nothing.” St. Augustine believed.
Our scriptural readings for this Third Sunday of Easter continue to fill in what occurred and what people saw and experienced after the resurrected Christ walked among them. In addition, they add the witness of those who did see. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents us with Peter preaching to the people. This is a different Peter indeed. He has assumed the leadership role to which Christ called him. It is he who has become the spokesman for the eleven remaining Apostles. Peter knows he is not alone; he knows that Christ is always with him and within him through the Holy Spirit. Hearing his words, you can sense his excitement and his zeal: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.”
St. Peter continues to encourage and affirm the early Christians in his letter written to the people of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Earlier in this letter Peter had reminded us that gold may lose its luster, but faith never does. He reiterates that in today’s second reading. Silver and gold, Peter says, are “perishable” but the Blood of Christ with which each of us was redeemed is incorruptible, pure, and permanent. Peter understands us pretty well. The gift given us by Christ is so incredible and so overwhelming that Peter is not sure we can really come to terms with it. Peter assures us that Jesus Christ was preordained before anything. Like God, He is, was, and always shall be. Our challenge is to embrace this and to use the strength from that knowledge to make a difference in our lives, in the lives of those around us, in our parish, in our neighborhood, and in the world.
On the day of His Resurrection Christ appeared to others on five occasions. It is worth noting that the story of the empty tomb appears in all four Canonical Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. On the other hand, the story of Christ’s appearance on the road to Emmaus occurs only in Mark and Luke, and the account in Mark does not mention Emmaus. Our Gospel reading from Luke has enough symbolism and meaning that entire books have been written about it.
One might say that we are all on the road to Emmaus. Our lives may parallel it. It begins with sadness and disappointment. Jesus sensed these disciples’ unhappiness and asked them what they were discussing. “They stopped, looking downcast.” Even when the Lord begins to converse with them, they have no idea who He is, even though they knew Jesus well and had followed Him. We may also fail to recognize or see Christ in those with whom we may walk, although it has been made clear to us He is there. Finally, where do they really apprehend who Jesus is? When Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to them. “He took bread, broke it, said the blessing, and gave it to them.”
This what we should experience at each Mass when the priest, as he consecrates the bread, says, “Take this all of you and eat of it; for this is my body which will be given up for you.” In the Eucharist we should find everything from Holy Scripture. We, like the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, should find joy and satisfaction and strength. And we, like they, should hurry to all we know to proclaim, “The Lord has truly been raised.” It is still Easter and we have much to do.
May 4, 2014 – Third Sunday of Easter
“Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us?” Jesus appeared five times to people on the day of His Resurrection. This was most likely the fourth appearance, as these two disciples walked the seven mile distance to Emmaus. The conversation of the men indicates that they were aware of the reports from others that the Lord had risen and had been seen. Yet they seemed to be uncertain. It is difficult to imagine their excitement recognizing Jesus, but an indication of that is the fact that even though they have just made the walk to Emmaus, they turn and go back to Jerusalem, we assume with great haste.
The first reading from Acts shows us a very different Peter than the one we have known. Having received the Holy Spirit and having personally witnessed Christ’s Resurrection, Peter is a man on fire with faith. He speaks with confidence and authority, and although the rest of the Apostles are there, he has clearly become the spokesman.
What St. Peter urges us to do is to have that same fire, that same commitment, so that our hearts can be burning within us with the knowledge of our salvation. Peter tells us to “Listen to my words” and “Hear my words.” We could add to that “Understand my words,” as we seek to live out our discipleship, our stewardship as followers of Christ.
April 27, 2014 – Second Sunday of Easter/Sunday of Divine Mercy
It is appropriate on this Second Sunday of Easter that our readings focus on the earliest days of the Church after the Resurrection of Jesus. This is in addition to Divine Mercy Sunday, as declared in the spring of 2000 by Pope John Paul II, who is canonized on this day and becomes St. John Paul II.
Although it is never specifically stated, most scholars believe that it was Luke who authored the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a physician who lived in the ancient city of Antioch. It is conjectured that he may have been St. Paul’s doctor, but he was certainly a follower of Paul and was very familiar with the early Church as established by Christ, launched by St. Peter, and fostered by St. Paul. The first reading today points to the way the early members of the Church gathered in community. There was a practical reason for this, the main one of which was the constant threat they were under. Note that they “broke bread in their homes,” an indication that they celebrated the Eucharist in private homes, both for community and for safety.
St. Peter’s first letter, from which we have the second reading, was originally written in Greek. It is thought that someone else may have actually written it, perhaps as dictated by Peter. Verses three to nine in the first chapter, our reading for today, immediately follow Peter’s introductory remarks. Just as in the reading from Acts, Peter addresses what the early Christians must do. Peter specifically mentions that Christians/we may have “to suffer through various trials.” Yet, if our faith is true and strong, if we trust in the Lord, our faith will not fail. Stewardship is a way that we can practice our faith, live it out. However, living that way is not easy either. Living as a steward is more difficult when we face the kinds of trials Peter anticipates. Nevertheless, Peter assures us that there is great joy in following Jesus: “…you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”
On the day of His Resurrection, Christ appears five times. The Gospel account from John is one of those occasions. You may recall that the Gospel of John is the story of Christ’s last twenty days. This Gospel account from Chapter 20 of John happens right at the end of the Gospel of John (There is one more chapter after 20.). John explains why he has written his Gospel in a brief epilogue at the end of today’s Gospel reading: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The abiding message to us on this Divine Mercy Sunday is that faith will set us free. Christ appears to the Apostles even though the doors are closed and locked. Do we close doors to the Lord? We can be sure He is not stopped by them any more than He was in that room where the Apostles were hiding.
Luke (assuming he is the author of Acts), Peter in his letter, John, and, most importantly, Christ Himself all call us to trust, to believe, and to prepare for the promised salvation. Upon St. Thomas’ humbling statement “My Lord and my God,” Jesus kindly responds, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We should have spent Lent trying to develop deeper beliefs, a more profound relationship with our Lord. As we enter this Easter season, that is still our goal.
April 27, 2014 – Second Sunday of Easter/Sunday of Divine Mercy
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” With those words of comfort, Jesus reaches out to us across the chasm of time. This is not only the Second Sunday of Easter, but also Divine Mercy Sunday. Divine Mercy Sunday is a relatively recent development within the Church, having been established by Pope John Paul II the year 2000. Today is also a monumental day in the history of our Church as Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonized and become St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, respectively.
The readings for this Sunday are replete with forgiveness and love. In the first reading from Acts we hear about the earliest days of the Church, how the Apostles and other followers of Jesus banded together to support and to help one another. In the second reading, the beginning of Peter’s first letter to those followers throughout what is now Turkey, St. Peter speaks of the mercy of the Lord to us through salvation. However, he cautions us that following Jesus is not and will not be trouble-free.
The Gospel from John relates also the beginnings of the Church. By bestowing the Holy Spirit upon His followers (“He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”), Jesus made them the first stewards of the Church. We, too, are stewards of the Church. In their Pastoral Letter on Stewardship (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response) our U.S. Bishops declared, “We are all stewards of the Church.” With Easter so fresh to us, now is the time to accept that responsibility.
April 20, 2014 – The Resurrection of the Lord/The Mass of Easter Sunday
Last Easter, Pope Francis, who had only been Pope for some 12 days, smiled and looked at his people, his newly designated flock, and at the Easter Vigil he said, “Let the risen Jesus enter your life; welcome Him as a friend, with trust. Jesus is life! If up until now you have kept Him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk; you won’t be disappointed. If following Him seems difficult, don’t be afraid. Trust Him! Be confident that He is close to you; He is with you; He will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do.”
His Holiness admittedly did not use the word “stewardship,” but what he said and what he was talking about exuded stewardship. On this radiant Easter Sunday, filled with life, filled with beauty, and filled with hope, we need to embrace everything that Pope Francis was talking about. Most of all we need to recognize the gift of eternal life presented us by Christ’s Resurrection, and we need to do all we do with trust in Christ and in His promises to us.
Holy Scripture always provides us with insights and inspiration, but the readings on Easter Sunday offer particular weight to the reasons for our joy and celebration on this day. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles quotes St. Peter as he testified to the truth and reality of what he had witnessed. Faith is, of course, built upon testimony, and although we may not have personally been present to view all that happened with Jesus Christ and His Resurrection, Peter was. Our faith recognizes Peter as a witness to all. Peter reminds us why we are jubilant on Easter: “Everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through His name.”
St. Paul is another extraordinary witness to Christ’s gift of salvation. Paul’s message to the Colossians and to us is especially fitting for Easter. Jesus was raised from the dead and we were raised with Him. Jesus arose and left the tomb. Sometimes we may find ourselves in the tombs of our own making — ways that we may isolate ourselves and not open ourselves to either God or those around us. It is time for us, too, to leave the tomb. After His Resurrection, Jesus spent His time with His disciples, His followers. It is time for us to be with others and to serve others. That is what stewardship is all about: reaching out to others in service. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and have been since our Baptism. Now is the time to fulfill that Baptismal promise.
Our Gospel from John tells the story of those who discovered that Jesus had risen, even though they may not have immediately drawn that conclusion. Note that St. John, who wrote this report, refers to himself indirectly in an act of humility. There is no question that John is the second Apostle, the witness, who “saw and believed.” In the original Greek text, where it is translated as “bent down and saw” describing John as the first of the apostles to get to the tomb, the Greek word used for “saw” is “blepo.” That means more than just to see; it means “to clearly see.” John’s “seeing” is followed by St. Peter’s. Peter entered the tomb and he “saw.” However, the Greek word translated as “saw” is “theoreo.” That literally means not just “to see,” but also to “contemplate, observe, and scrutinize.” Finally, John, too enters the tomb and “sees and believes.” In this instance the Greek word for see was “eido,” which means“to understand.” We are called to clearly see and to totally comprehend what Jesus has done for us. Happy Easter!
April 20, 2014 – The Resurrection of the Lord/The Mass of Easter Sunday
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” This refrain from Psalm 118 rings throughout the Church on this glorious Easter Sunday. His Holiness Pope Francis will echo that by proclaiming “He is risen!” from the balcony of St. Peter Basilica.
In today’s Gospel reading from John the empty tomb is described and emphasized. Although Peter and John, upon inspecting the tomb “saw and believed,” it was not the empty tomb that they began to proclaim throughout Judea and beyond, it was the Lord’s Resurrection.
That is the reason for our joy. For us as Catholics and Christians, this is the hope promised us by Christ. We are all familiar with that familiar phrase: “faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” That is a formula for being a good steward as in sharing our love we fulfill our roles as disciples of Christ. To that formula on this magnificent Easter, we can add “Joy.”
Jesus fully understood the purpose of His life on earth. He endured the Cross for us with that purpose in mind. We each need to seek, find, and carry out the joy-filled purpose for our own lives.
Providing giving envelopes, hosting a variety of ministries, and offering parishioners ample opportunities for increasing prayer life are all noble endeavors for parishes seeking to teach their congregation how to live out a stewardship way of life.
But, it’s not enough.
If parishioners don’t know about the existence of these opportunities, they certainly can’t take advantage of them. So, what is the best way to educate parishioners on the ways to embrace a stewardship way of life and help them to take concrete action?
According to the University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life’s study titled “Steps in the Journey to Becoming a More Generous Person,” just talking about tithing or parish ministries or prayer time alone won’t necessarily lead to a parish filled with more generous stewards.
“Simply talking about tithing will not likely lead to the emergence of a large number of tithers in the parish,” the study says. “Changing parish cultures and people is a process that takes time and requires Catholics, themselves, to consciously choose and implement habitual practices of giving.”
This recommendation of providing consistent, regular, and committed giving opportunities to share of time, talents, and treasure, is also the process Catholic Stewardship Consultants has implemented with parishes for almost two decades.
Doing so provides parishioners a chance to regularly stay accountable and draw closer in their path to stewardship through a change of culture – the only way to generate stewardship in action.
April 13, 2014 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
On this glorious Palm Sunday we rejoice with those who greeted Jesus upon His entrance into Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest.” As humble as His entrance must have been (He entered the city riding on a donkey.), the crowd, knowing the Messianic prophecy from Zechariah, produced a festive and glorious scene. Of course, as Catholics, we pronounce “Hosanna” at each and every Mass throughout the year just prior to kneeling for the Consecration: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts … Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Thus, this shout of Hosanna is repeated by us over and over and over.
However, on this Palm Sunday it trumpets Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as the Lord prepares to give His life for each of us on the Cross. There is so much meaning throughout our celebration today, so much substance in the readings, that it is almost impossible to truly grasp the totality of it all. Our Lenten journeys are almost over and our exultation on Easter is fast approaching.
The reading of the Passion is central to what we do on this Sunday. For one thing it explains the Eucharist, which is at the heart of our faith. In Matthew’s recounting of the Passion (It is two full chapters in Matthew’s Gospel.) the phrase Son Of God is included four times; the phrase Son of Man is also included four times. Others refer to Jesus as the Son of God; however, He consistently refers to Himself as the Son of Man.
In fact, in the four Gospels Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man more than 60 times. This is significant to our understanding of the Lord’s dual role as God and human. It is as if Jesus wants us to understand that He is human when he calls Himself the Son of Man. Jesus Christ is, of course, conjoined as man and God in one person. In addition, Jesus is consubstantial with God the Father — that is, of the same substance. Palm Sunday is a time when we need to view and accept the Holy Trinity in its entirety.
Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) is a solemnity in the Church. That means it is among the highest ranking feasts in our Church year. According to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship in their Paschalis Sollemnitatis,“Holy Week begins on ‘Passion (or Palm) Sunday’ whichjoinsthe foretelling of Christ’s regal triumphandthe proclamation of the passion. The connection betweenbothaspects of the Paschal Mystery should be shown and explained in the celebration and catechesis of this day.”
As we begin Holy Week and prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter, it is important that we continue to embrace this manifold role represented by Jesus — triumph, joy, death, Resurrection, and salvation. Also, this is a time when we should have a full appreciation of what it means to be a steward — to accept the Lord as our Savior, to recognize that we are gifted, to commit ourselves to sharing those gifts with others, and to take the Light of Christ and bring it to all we know and meet. Now is the time for us to proclaim, “Truly, this is the Son of God.”
April 13, 2014 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
“Truly, this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54). With those words, we are reminded of the significance of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. In a sense, we have spent the past several weeks pondering this, and considering what it means to us personally. This is, of course, part of the Passion as written in the Gospel of Matthew.
On this Palm Sunday we begin our liturgies with a procession during which we hear the crowds shout and cheer as Jesus enters Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest.” The word “Hosanna” in Hebrew is “Hoshiana” and in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic it is “Hosiana.” Scholars generally agree that it meant “save” or “rescue” in Aramaic, and may have even meant “savior.” The point is that the crowd senses the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and rejoices accordingly.
Although we begin our Palm Sunday Mass with this joyful announcement, we will later, as part of the reading of the Passion, be chanting “Let him be crucified.” Is this the same crowd? Have they turned so dramatically on the Savior? Our own lives may be filled with those kinds of contradictions. As Easter approaches and Lent draws to a close, as good stewards, we must work to embrace Jesus and to be a part of His glory.
April 6, 2014 – The Fifth Sunday of Lent
St. Paul tells us in the second reading from his letter to the Romans that “You are in the spirit, if only the spirit of God dwells within you.” It is this Spirit, which was placed in each of us at our Baptisms, and reinforced through the Sacraments throughout our lives, which flows through all the readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent.
As we have prepared and continue to get ready for Easter, part of our objective should have been to seek the spirit within us, and to make and endeavor to have that spirit come alive within us in reflection of Christ. Each of the readings identifies and acknowledges this inner spirit we possess.
Knowing a little about the Prophet Ezekiel is helpful in understanding both his prophecies and the historical context within which they were made. Around 600 BC, at a time when the Jerusalem was occupied by the Babylonians, the people of Jerusalem rebelled. Not only was the rebellion suppressed, but most of the Judean leaders were taken into captivity and marched to Babylon where they were basically made slaves. Ezekiel was one of those taken.
What he saw and experienced during the forced march is reflected in today’s first reading. Ezekiel had a vision of a mass grave in one valley where hundreds of victims were thrown into a pit. This “valley of the dry bones” is the basis for his prophecy in the reading. He is careful to point out the difference between these skeletal bodies and the spirits which dwelled within them. Ezekiel wants us to know that God’s spirit is at work within us, and if we cling to that, we will have life. Lent, as we said, is a time to seek that spirit.
Not surprisingly the theme of the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, is exactly the same. St. Paul declares, “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit.” Again Lent is an occasion when we make the try to reduce the “flesh,” and to emphasize the spirit. Just as Ezekiel indicated, Paul, too, makes it clear to us that God dwells within us. He also reveals to us that we must strive to live in God, just as the Lord’s spirit is in us. It is a mutual occupation. “Although the body is dead, the spirit is alive.”
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, always makes these connections most clear. The Gospel reading from John, the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, may actually prevent us from making the connection pointed out in the first two readings because we tend to focus on the miracle. Recall that the Gospel of John is basically the last three weeks of Christ’s physical life on earth. Bethany, where this story occurs, is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Like the Lord, we are on that same journey to Calvary, to the Resurrection, to Easter.
This story prompts us to remember that it is never too late for us. Lent may be more than half over, but we can still find the spirit within us. Lazarus’s spirit has not died, and to make a point, Jesus reunites it with the body. The Lord says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” This is what makes us hopeful, and this is what will make us joyous at Easter. Now is the time though to incorporate our faith, our hope, into our daily lives. One of the most basic ways of doing that is to adopt stewardship and discipleship as a way of life.
April 6, 2014 – The Fifth Sunday of Lent
“I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” With those words, God speaks to us through the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading for this Fifth Sunday in Lent. In fact, all of the readings for this Sunday reflect the importance of the Spirit living within us.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, the second reading, asks us to understand that the spirit dwells within us, and that is what is important; not our flesh or our bodies, but what God has placed in us — the Holy Spirit. What is important is that Spirit, for that is truly the key to truth and life.
Of course, in the Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, this idea of body and spirit is reinforced. As our Lenten journeys continue, we need to continue to acknowledge the presence of Christ and the Spirit within us, and strive to fulfill that manifestation. Furthermore, we need to connect a key part of the Lazarus story with our own lives. Just as Jesus tells them in that story to “Take away the stone,” the Lord is commanding us to remove the stones in our lives; the obstacles that prevent our spirits to live in Him and with Him. It is time to roll our personal stones back and to pursue stewardship and discipleship as a way of life.
According to the recent study, Unleashing Catholic Generosity: Explaining the Catholic Giving Gap in the United States, the University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life states that American Catholics are less likely than the rest of the population to report giving 10 percent, with only one in six Catholics even doing that.
As stewards, we should be concerned why our fellow Catholics – and perhaps ourselves – are not giving more generously. After all, if we believe that all we have is given to us by God, shouldn’t we eagerly return a portion in thanksgiving?
Notre Dame researchers investigated how culturally-shaped orientations towards money impacted giving. The study found that Catholics were no more impacted by a tough economy than other denominations, nor were Catholics earning less across the board than their fellow Christians.
The study also uncovered a key cultural difference in giving trends. Catholics tend to separate our faith lives and our wallets, which actually decreases our generosity. Those of us who view our finances as belonging and coming from God – and not our own efforts – give more generously.
This distinction is critical for promoting a stewardship way of life. As stewards, we should see our finances as God-given gifts and use that money faithfully.
March 30, 2014 – The Fourth Sunday of Lent
“Not as a man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart.” On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is also called Laetare Sunday, we are close to the middle of our 2014 Lenten journeys. This past Thursday was the actual “midpoint” of Lent this year, but this Sunday, as the closest to that, is a time set aside for us to “Rejoice!”
It is fitting that our readings for this Sunday point to important aspects of our faith that we need to recognize and embrace. Although each reading has significance by itself, all of them together bring us to a deeper understanding of what Lent is all about, and what we need to be doing to fulfill and complete our Lenten promises.
The first reading from First Samuel is the story of how David was chosen by God to be king. The Books of Samuel were written some 600 years before the birth of Christ, but as is usually the case with the Old Testament, it anticipates the New Testament. We need to acknowledge the fact that the name David means “beloved” in Hebrew. What an ideal anticipation of God declaring at Christ’s Baptism, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) David, of course, was rejected when it came to the initial selection, and he stayed in the fields with the sheep while his brothers were brought before Samuel. This, too, anticipated Jesus: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Matthew 21:42) We are reminded that our focus must be on Jesus Christ.
The preferred Psalm for this week is the 23rd Psalm. Is there another Psalm with which we are so familiar? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose. Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” In the middle of Lent we need that reassurance, that comfort, that reminder that God is with us.
Saint Paul takes us one more step on our journey in his letter to the Ephesians, our second reading. We are called to reflect the light of Christ, “Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” To really reflect this light, however, we need to seek it, recognize it, and clasp it. That is what Lent is about. That is what stewardship is about — our willingness to see that it is time for us to be the light, time for us to commit ourselves to lives that take us closer to God and to holiness. Light is an important representation throughout Scripture; it tends to represent knowledge, wisdom, happiness, and holiness.
What a profound and beautiful story is found in the Gospel reading from John! We have to, as is frequently the case, look more deeply into what Jesus and Holy Scripture are telling us. We are told that the blind man whom Jesus cures has been blind since birth. This makes this miracle even more powerful. Jesus often healed the blind, but the fact that this man has never seen makes the healing even greater. Just as God revealed in the reading from Samuel that He looks beyond the obvious, into the heart, Jesus does the same in this instance. This man could not see Christ, but Christ could see him; in fact, Christ could look into the depths of his heart. Christ came into the world to give sight to those who are spiritually blind — to us. On this Laetare Sunday, we need to rejoice, to take the light of Christ given us by Christ, and to share it and spread it through stewardship with everyone we know and everyone we meet.